Lean Thinking

Monday, 22 May 2017 12:50

Scaling Up To Scale Down

Published in Agile

Last time we looked at the trend towards massive scale in the agile community and some of the problems scale leads to. We looked at an alternative approach. A scaled down approach -

"Imagine, instead of a huge program, we have small groups of teams, say 2-5 teams in a group. Each group manages its own stakeholders, environments, dependencies and the like. Each group is directly aligned to a set of business stakeholders with a common set of outcomes, is funded through an investment pool aligned to business outcomes, not specific project deliverables, and delivers value end to end for the stakeholder group."

This approach would allow the organisation to deliver value efficiently without the need for massive scaled structures and the complexity and inefficiencies that go along with them. The only problem of course is that such a structure is impossible in most organisations because they are built around large programs and large platforms and simply don't have the ability, architecture or processes to handle a scaled down operation.

So where to from here? Can we move beyond scaled approaches to a scaled down approach? I think we can and the first step in that journey is to scale up.

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 21:21

Should We Scale?

Published in Agile

There has been a trend recently within the agile community to embrace massive scale. Not just a few teams working together but really large groups. Every day we see examples of bigger programs, larger release trains, all successfully being managed through agile techniques. Just recently, a colleague ran a PI planning event for close to 1000 people spread across three countries. I have seen other organisations proudly boasting that they have "the largest release train in the southern hemisphere", with some figures on the incredible budgets that the train is managing. The SAFe framework now has 4 levels rather than 3 to enable it to manage bigger and bigger structures. Less has Less-huge to do the same.

While I celebrate the achievements of the coaches successfully helping organisations achieve this, and the incredible feat of facilitation that a 1000 person, 3 country PI event must be, I can't help worrying that this drive towards massive scale is not altogether a good thing. Large companies want scale because that's the way they are used to working. They are used to thinking in terms of large programs of work involving hundreds of people. In order to help them, we have developed techniques that allow us to handle this sort of scale. But just because we can do something, it does not automatically follow that we should do something. There are significant downsides to scale.

Published in Agile

How do things get funded in the organisation you work for? If you work for most organisations, a business case will be prepared and submitted to management for approval. The conversation around approval will invariably be based around cost and benefit - how much will this cost and how much will this make? This leads to some pretty well known problems. I have written about these problems before (The Problem with Projects and Outcome Based Funding) and they are pretty well known. Ask anyone involved in funding approvals and they will tell you that the process is pretty bad and things need to be done to improve it.

Organisations have tried many things - fast track funding for small initiatives, streamlined approvals processes, delegated approvals, all sorts of things, but the process remains inflexible, flawed and generally broken. I think this comes not from a flawed process but from a flawed starting assumption - that cost vs benefit is the correct way to allocate money. I think we are asking entirely the wrong question. No amount of tweaking the process will help if the process is answering the wrong question. So what is the right question? I think we should stop asking "how much will it cost" and start asking "how much should we invest".

Tuesday, 13 December 2016 09:12

Capability Building In Practice

Published in Agile

Last time we looked at how to transform large organisations by building capability internally rather than buying capability externally. There are a lot of benefits to this approach. It's faster. It's cheaper. It's more effective. But it does fundamentally change the way an organisation sees its agile transformation program.

Most of the time, a traditional coach-led transformation program is set up to minimise the disruption to staff. Apart from some training and a new way of working (and maybe a slight blurring of strict job titles), the organisation sees its staff doing pretty much exactly the same thing they were doing before the change. Developers develop, testers test, they just do it in a new, agile way. With an internally-led transformation, this is not the case. A significant number of staff will be involved in this program for a long time. This will impact their day jobs. So the first rule of internally-led transformations is - give people time.

Published in Agile

Last post I put forward 7 principles that I think every agile methodology should have. In this post, I'll be explaining (hopefully) what each of those principles means and why I think it is important. To recap, the six principles for a succesful methodology are -

  • They are built around small, self-organising teams
  • The team has a clear vision of what they are doing and where they fit into the bigger picture
  • The team delivers a regular flow of value via a well defined backlog of work
  • There is a content authority responsible for making sure decisions are made quickly
  • There is a clear bidirectional service agreement between the team and the rest of the organisation
  • There is a fast feedback loop that allows the team and organisation to optimise both the process and the product.
  • The methodology is self-similar at scale.

So, let's start looking at these in more detail.

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